Dot.dead author gives Silicon Valley an air of mystery

Palo Alto author Keith Raffel admits there are some parallels between his own background and the protagonist of his book “dot.dead: A Silicon Valley Mystery.” However, when an overly ambitious reporter — perhaps inspired by the “whodunnit” nature of the Raffel’s mystery novel — pressed too hard to make a connection, Raffel snapped.

“Whooo … wait a minute,” Raffel said from during a phone interview conducted in his car while driving home from Los Angles. “I want to make clear that I am not a venture capitalist. What a horrible thing to say. I may work in the Valley, but I’ve never gone over to the Dark Side.”

While Raffel’s concern was largely facetious, the soul-crunching nature of working in Silicon Valley forms the crux of “dot.dead.” Much like the book’s protagonist, Raffel is comfortable in the Valley’s milieu, but he also has some perspective.

Raffel, who was born and raised in Palo Alto (and lives a block away from his childhood home), remembers a time when the area was called the “Valley of Heart’s Delight” and was chock-full of apricot orchids.

“When I went to Palo Alto High, I went to high school with the children of custodians as well as the Hewlett children,” said Raffel. “We didn’t have the sharp class distinctions that you see today.”

Sharp class distinctions are ubiquitous in “dot.dead.” When Ian Michaels, a high-flying Jewish techie discovers a woman stabbed to death in his bed, his world unravels. The woman — who Michaels had never met — turned out to be the part-time maid that Michaels had been communicating with via email for the past few months.

In a plot twist surely unique to Silicon Valley, the maid was Jewish. And yes, the book does feature inquisitive rabbis and concerned Jewish mothers. (As Raffel puts it, Michaels’ Jewish mother wants to “call a caterer” every time she sees her bachelor son next to a woman).

“It’s hard to maintain Jewish values in Silicon Valley,” continued Raffel, who has worked in the area on and off for the past quarter century. Raffel, who attends Reform Congregation Beth Am with his wife and four children, has led a peripatetic professional life. Or, as the author puts it, “I suffer from professional ADD.”

Raffel has been at various times a carpenter, a staffer for the Senate Foreign Intelligence Committee, and a history teacher. In 1997, he founded his own company, UpShot Corporation, which provides tools for salespeople. In 2003, the company was purchased by Siebel Systems, which was then purchased by Oracle Corp. two years later.

“It kind of makes you feel like plankton,” Raffel quipped.

As a first-time novelist, Raffel enjoys the creative process, while seemingly eschewing the angst that characterizes most would-be Prousts. The plot for the book had been born the moment Raffel stepped into a UC extension mystery writing class almost a decade ago. There were no tortured bouts of self-doubt or hard-wrung epiphanies.

“I’m not trying to be Saul Bellow here,” Raffel opined. “I just wanted to write a gripping airplane or beach read, and I think that’s what I’ve done.”

“dot.dead: A Silicon Valley Mystery” by Keith Raffel (280 pages, Midnight Ink, $13.95).

Keith Raffel will speak 2:15 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12 at the Third Annual Celebration of Jewish Authors at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center, 800 Foster City Blvd., Foster City.